Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Polka King, or: Dirtbag Men of the ’90s

Biopic month continues, now featuring the subtheme of dirtbag men!  This week’s dirtbag is also a legend of the music scene–specifically, the polka scene.

The Film:

The Polka King

The Premise:

The true story of Jan Lewan, the self-proclaimed polka king of Pennsylvania who, among other things, ran a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme.

The Ramble:

As we begin, Jan Lewan, seems to be a fairly successful manager and lead singer of a small polka band.  In addition to the polka band, Jan sells Polish merchandise, owns a pizza place, and sells his own brand of vodka.  Nonetheless, Jan is barely making ends meet, a fact his mother-in-law, Barb, never lets him forget.

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Ambitious and determined to live out his own American dream, Jan wants to build a life where he can live comfortably with his wife Marla and son David.  Yet the polka band Jan has worked so hard to put together is in danger of falling apart as bff Micky Pizzazz, earning almost nothing from the venture, threatens to quit.

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When elderly fans of the band want to invest in Jan’s business ventures, he eagerly jumps on the opportunity, despite not being an investor or having a registered investment company.  Though Jan promises an outrageous return on investment, he’s not worried–the cash infusion has solved his short-term problems and kept the band together.

It doesn’t take long for the FBI to discover Jan’s amateurish scheme and warn him to return the money.  Jan agrees to this, but his fans still insist on investing large sums with his business.  What’s a guy to do…surely it would be rude to turn them down?

As Jan rakes in more and more cash, he also spends wildly.  Organizing a European trip, Jan promises an audience with the pope to all on the tour.  Somehow he manages to pull this off, though Micky is extremely agitated with Jan’s freewheeling style.

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Five years pass, and Jan’s polka band has earned him a Grammy nomination.  Meanwhile, Marla, tired of living in Jan’s shadow, decides to recapture her beauty pageant days by competing for the title of Mrs. Pennsylvania.  Against the odds, Marla wins…though begins to receive some strange calls about the nature of her victory.  Could Jan perhaps have something to do with this?

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As investors hear about the scandal surrounding the pageant, they begin pulling their money from Jan’s company.  However, he insists they’ll get an even better return if they wait just a little while longer.

Suddenly, while on tour with the polka band, the van crashes and David ends up on life support.

Jan worries this is a sign God is punishing him, and prays for the punishment to fall on his shoulders instead of his son’s.  What will happen when Jan’s schemes finally catch up with him?

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Eh, this is a reasonably interesting story, but I’m not sure it merits its own movie.  The story with the pope is apparently true, which is quite remarkable.  But the pacing of this movie is odd, and a traumatic event like David’s near-death experience is just sort of an aside.  Interestingly, the same thing happened with Vince’s daughter in The Dirt.  Coincidence?

Jan comes across as charming and charismatic, and it’s easy to see why people would foolishly trust him with their money.  However, his portrayal in this film implies he just naively believes this sort of opportunism is part of being an American and lacks the empathy and foresight to see the impact on his victims.  I have trouble believing there was no malice or that a lack of awareness makes his schemes any less awful.  Many people do manage to forgive him, but that strikes me as the mark of a successful con man.

There’s some fun here, and the performances are great, but it isn’t enough to make this film or story stand out.  Breaking news:  the men of polka can also be dirtbag con artists.  What a shocker.

Would my blog wife join in the polka action or send it to jail for its shady business practices?  Find out here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Art of Loving, or: You Weren’t Found in a Cabbage Patch

It’s summer, so we’re doing what we want on the blog (in contrast to every other season).  This week we’re up for some education on sexual and reproductive health…in 1970s Poland.  Based on a true story!

The Film:

The Art of Loving

The Premise:

A renowned Polish gynecologist struggles to publish a book that addresses very real–and very taboo–sexual issues married couples experience.

The Ramble:

Michalina Wisłocka, having worked as a gynecologist for years in many parts of Poland, has long been an advocate for contraception and the demystification of sex. Now, in the 1970s, she is ready to publish a book to help married couples, and especially women, understand their reproductive health and sexual issues. Enter the Catholic Church, stage left. Also the Soviets. Plus the media. And throw in a few disgruntled misogynists too for good measure. Getting a book published on such a taboo topic is going to be a battle.

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…of wearing super chic boho-style headscarves.

As it turns out, Michalina has always been surrounded by controversy. After spying on a skinny dipping man with her bff Wanda, Michalina eventually ends up marrying him. In large part because of Wanda, Michalina and her husband Stach survive the war. Wanda goes to live with the couple, and they eventually become a threesome. Michalina thinks this will work out perfectly as Wanda fulfills Stach’s sexual needs, while Michalina will fulfill his emotional needs.

After the war is over, Michalina pursues a medical degree and the 3 live together in harmony. Of course, this doesn’t last—when both Michalina and Wanda become pregnant, things get rather complicated. As Wanda is an unmarried woman, Michalina claims both as her own children. This will be totally fine and never backfire as this unconventional family will be together forever…right?

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WWII lulz,

Yeah, maybe not. Wanda feels like a 3rd wheel and decides to leave with her son. This move will create absolutely no trauma for any parties involved…by which I mean SO much trauma for everyone. Wanda leaving triggers the dissolution of Michalina and Stach’s marriage, transforming a family of 5 into a party of 2.

Devastated, Michalina retreats to a small Polish village for the summer. Though she insists she’s taking a break from men, Michalina is nevertheless drawn to Jurek, a married sailor with a secret romantic streak.  From Jurek, Michalina gets her signature style of clothing made primarily from curtains.  She also feels encouraged to love and appreciate her body for the first time.  Unfortunately, Jurek is going to have to choose between his family and Michalina…3 guesses on how that turns out.

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We’ll always have Lubieniec…

In the present day (by which I mean the 1970s), Michalina is on the verge of publishing her book.  However, to avoid controversy, the chapter on female orgasms has been cut.  Following a ridiculous male rights conversation about men’s orgasms being important too (we know), Michalina walks with her book, refusing to compromise on this.

Will Michalina find a publisher and help thousands of Polish women reach their, er, full potential?  Related question:  is there a time in history when middle-aged white dudes are not trying to control women’s bodies?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I absolutely love the portrayal of Michalina in this (by Magdalena Boczarska).  She’s smart, confident, caring, and unwaveringly determined.  Some of her lines are absolutely brilliant–my favorites being “I am the sexual revolution and I’m coming,” and “You’re from a vagina; you weren’t found in a cabbage patch.”  What a woman.

However, there are a few things I find frustrating throughout the film.  The entire subplot of the secret baby mama feels melodramatic and disjointed.  Michalina is heartbroken when Wanda leaves with her child and believes both kids will be fucked up for life.  Yet after this scene, the film spends very little time exploring the effects on all parties and wrapping up this part of the story.

After the dissolution of the Michalina/Wanda/Stach relationship, the close bond between Michalina and Wanda disappears.  It’s frustrating to see such a genuine love vanish because of men–and indeed the extent to which Michalina’s early decisions are influenced by men.  While I adore Jurek and his surprisingly forward-thinking brand of 1970s Polish feminism, I dislike how much of the film revolves around Michalina’s relationships with men.

Would Christa flip straight to the dirty pictures or burn the manuscript?  Find out here!